Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription Access
Open Access Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Restricted Access Subscription Access

Into the Snares of Chastity:Reading the Smarthavicharam in History and Literature


Affiliations
1 Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, Baroda, Gujarat, India
     

   Subscribe/Renew Journal


Through an analysis of the Smarthavicharam of Kriyedathu Thatri (the ritual inquisition, trial and excommunication of an antharjanam or Kerala Brahmin woman), this study attempts to theorize social changes initiated through micro-level, personal rebellions. The trial and excommunication of Kuriyedathu Thatri and her sixty four partners in sin along with their families in 1905 is an episode in Kerala history that continues to intrigue scholars and fascinate writers and artists. Speaking the truth about her transgressions in a ritual trial presided over by a monarch (the Maharaja of Cochin) and veteran brahmin priests deletis was Thatri's strategic challenge to outmoded moral norms sanctioned by textual traditions (smritis and dharmasastras) and social practices. By making her own body the site of protest, Thatri subverted the very notion of chastity by exposing its hollowness and biases. The first part of the paper will read into historical accounts, archival materials and newspaper reports concerning Thatri to contextualize her transgression and confession, a doing - telling rebellion, which I argue had played a key role in abolishing certain customs that had virtually confined antharjanams to a life of suffering. Significantly, after Thatri's trial, there had been significant movements towards improving the conditions of antharjanams. The Nambutiris (Kerala Brahmins) were comparatively insular to the impacts of colonial education, missionary reform zeal and interactions with other cultures. When there happened heated debates, reform movements and negotiations for social mobility in other castes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Nambutiri community was somewhat indifferent to cultural readjustments and negotiations. Eminent Nambutiri reformer, V.T. Bhattathirippad compares Thatri to a volcano that had burnt down the fortress of brahminical authority and a nightmare that had woken up a complacent community from their centuries-long slumber. In the second part of the paper, I examine representations of Kuriyedathu Thatri in films and literature as a revolutionary resisting a caste-ridden patriarchal society. Thatri's confession led to her excommunication or symbolic death which had been interpreted as ironic martyrdom. Kuriyedathu Thatri survives her symbolic and real deaths through representation and interpretation.

Keywords

Body, Subversive Strategies, Caste-Reforms In Kerala, Chastity, Kuriyedathu Thatri, Ritual Trial, Smarthavicharam, Social Change, Transgression as Resistance.
User
Subscription Login to verify subscription
Notifications
Font Size

  • Texts in Malayalam
  • Antharjanam. Lalithambika. Lalithambika Antharjanathinte Kathakal Sampoornam, (complete short stories of Lalithambika Antharjanam). Kottayam: DC Books, 2014.
  • Bhaskaranunni, P. Smarthavicharam. Kottayam: National Book Stall, 2009.
  • ---. Pathomatham Noottandile Keralam (Kerala in the 19th century). Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1988.
  • Bhattathirippad, V.T. Karmavipakam (culmination or maturation of karma). Kottayam, DC Books, 2011.
  • ---. V.T. yude Sampoorna Krithikal (the complete works of V.T.). Kottayam: DC Books, 1997.Chakiar, A.N.M. Avasanathe Smarthavicharam (the last caste inquisition).
  • Thiruvananthapuram: The Department of Cultural Publications, 2001.
  • Kunjukuttan, Madampu. Bhrasht (the outcaste, 1973). Kottayam, DC Books, 2011.
  • Leelakrishnan, Alangode. Thathrikkuttiyude Smarthavicharam (the Smarthavicharam of Thatrikkutty). Kozhikode: Mathrubhoomi Books, 2006.
  • Menon. C. A (Ed). Keralolpatti. (Madras University Malayalam Series No: 10).
  • Madras: University of Madras, 1953.
  • Menon, K.P.S. Kathakalirangam (the scene of kathakali). Kozhikode: Mathrubhumi Printing, 1957.
  • Namboodiri, N.M. Samuthiri Charitrattile Kanappurangal (unknown facets of the history of the Zamorins). Sukapuram: Vallathol Vidyapeedham, 1987.
  • Namboodiri, Parayil Raman. Namboodirimar (the nambutiris). Thrissur: Mangalodayam, 1918.
  • Namboodiripad, Kanippayyur Sankaran, Namboodirimarum Marumakkathayavum (the nambutiris and matriliny). Kunnamkulam: Panchangam Press, 1961.
  • ---. Ente Smaranakal (my memories) Vols. I-III (1967). Kunnamkulam, Panchangam Press, 1991.
  • ---. Pandita Rajan Kanippayyur Sankaran Namboodiripadinte Lekhana Samaharam (the collected articles of Pandita Rajan [the king of scholars, a title given to great scholar during monarchy], Kanippayyur Sankaran Nambootirippad). Kunnamkulam: Panchangam Press, 2001.
  • Namboodiripad, Muttiringot Bhavatratan. Apphante Makal (the daughter of Apphan,1930). Thrissur: Kerala Sahitya Akademi, 1989.
  • Nandan. Kuriyedath Thatri. Kottayam: DC Books, 2011.
  • Puthoor, Unnikrishnan. Amrithamadhanam (churning for amrita or the divine nectar). Kottayam: Sahitya Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham, 1981.
  • Raja, A.M. Thatrikkutty Ezhuthunnu (Thatrikkutty writes). Self Published, 1990.
  • Sreedevi, K.B. Yajnam (the fire ritual or penance). Kottayam: Sahitya Pravarthaka Co-operative, 1993.
  • Sreeja, K.V. Ororo Kalathilum (in each era). Kottayam: DC Books, 2004.
  • Texts in English
  • Aiyappan, Ayinippalli. Social Revolution in a Kerala Village: A Study in Cultural Change. Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1965.
  • ---. "Goddess of Revenge" (a translation of "Prathikaradevatha"), in Cast Me Out If You Will: Stories and Memoir. Trans. Gita Krishnankutty, New York: Feminist Press, 1998, pp. 18-30.
  • Chakiar, A.M.N. The Last Caste Inquisition: A Victim's Reminiscences. Self published, 1999.
  • Chakravarti, Uma. Everyday Lives, Everyday Histories: Beyond the King and Brahmanas of Ancient India. New Delhi: Tulika, 2006.
  • Fawcett, Fred. Nambutiris: Notes on Some of the People of Malabar (1900).
  • New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2001.
  • Kunjukuttan, Madampu. Outcaste (a translation of Bhrasht). Trans.Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan. Delhi: Macmillan India, 1996.
  • Menon, C. Achyutha, Cochin State Manual. Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Gazetteers Department, 1995(1911).
  • Menon, Padmanabha. K.P. A History of Kerala. Volume I - IV. Eranakulam, 1924-37.
  • Nandy, Ashis. Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias: Essays in the Politics of Awareness. New Delhi: OUP, 2004.
  • Nilayamgode, Devaki. Antharjanam: Memoirs of a Namboodiri Woman. Trans.
  • Indira Menon and Radhika P. Menon. New Delhi: OUP, 2011.
  • Panikkar, K.N. Culture, Ideology, Hegemony: Intellectuals and Social Consciousness in Colonial India. New Delhi: Tulika, 1995.
  • Panikkar, T.K. Gopal. Malabar and Its Folk. Madras: G.A. Natesan & Co., 1900. (https://ia601409.us.archive.org/9/items/malabaritsfolk00gopaiala/ malabaritsfolk00gopaiala.pdf, accessed in March 2014) Thapar, Romila. The Pat as Present: Forging Contemporary Identities through History. New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2014.
  • Sangari, Kumkum and Sudesh Vaid (ed.). Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History (First published in1989). New Delhi: Zubaan, 2006.
  • Thurston, Edgar. Castes and Tribes of South India (1909), 7 Volumes. Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1975.
  • Ward and Conner. Memoirs of the Survey of Travancore and Cochin States (1863), Volume I. Trivandrum: Kerala Gazetteers Department, 1994.
  • Other Sources
  • Smartavicharam Records, Eranakulam Regional Archives; folders140,141A, C, E & F
  • Malayala Manorama Newspaper 31 May to14 July 1905.
  • Diaries of the Maharaja (1897-1914), "Private Records" in Eranakulam Regional Archives
  • The Cochin Nambutiri Act, No. 14, 1934, Eranakulam Regional Archives.
  • Kerala Society Papers, Series II (1929) [reprinted as Kerala Society Papers (Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Gazetteers, 1997.)]
  • Kerala State Archives Newsletter, Vol II. No. 1, January 1976

Abstract Views: 609

PDF Views: 8




  • Into the Snares of Chastity:Reading the Smarthavicharam in History and Literature

Abstract Views: 609  |  PDF Views: 8

Authors

B. S. Bini
Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences, Baroda, Gujarat, India

Abstract


Through an analysis of the Smarthavicharam of Kriyedathu Thatri (the ritual inquisition, trial and excommunication of an antharjanam or Kerala Brahmin woman), this study attempts to theorize social changes initiated through micro-level, personal rebellions. The trial and excommunication of Kuriyedathu Thatri and her sixty four partners in sin along with their families in 1905 is an episode in Kerala history that continues to intrigue scholars and fascinate writers and artists. Speaking the truth about her transgressions in a ritual trial presided over by a monarch (the Maharaja of Cochin) and veteran brahmin priests deletis was Thatri's strategic challenge to outmoded moral norms sanctioned by textual traditions (smritis and dharmasastras) and social practices. By making her own body the site of protest, Thatri subverted the very notion of chastity by exposing its hollowness and biases. The first part of the paper will read into historical accounts, archival materials and newspaper reports concerning Thatri to contextualize her transgression and confession, a doing - telling rebellion, which I argue had played a key role in abolishing certain customs that had virtually confined antharjanams to a life of suffering. Significantly, after Thatri's trial, there had been significant movements towards improving the conditions of antharjanams. The Nambutiris (Kerala Brahmins) were comparatively insular to the impacts of colonial education, missionary reform zeal and interactions with other cultures. When there happened heated debates, reform movements and negotiations for social mobility in other castes during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Nambutiri community was somewhat indifferent to cultural readjustments and negotiations. Eminent Nambutiri reformer, V.T. Bhattathirippad compares Thatri to a volcano that had burnt down the fortress of brahminical authority and a nightmare that had woken up a complacent community from their centuries-long slumber. In the second part of the paper, I examine representations of Kuriyedathu Thatri in films and literature as a revolutionary resisting a caste-ridden patriarchal society. Thatri's confession led to her excommunication or symbolic death which had been interpreted as ironic martyrdom. Kuriyedathu Thatri survives her symbolic and real deaths through representation and interpretation.

Keywords


Body, Subversive Strategies, Caste-Reforms In Kerala, Chastity, Kuriyedathu Thatri, Ritual Trial, Smarthavicharam, Social Change, Transgression as Resistance.

References